THE PUDDING MASTER OF
 
 
 
          STANLEY BASIN
 
 
 
 
 
Tree, snow and rock beginnings, the mountain in back of the
 
lake promised us eternity, but the lake itself was filled with
 
thousands of silly minnows, swimming close to the shore
 
and busy putting in hours of Mack Sennett time.
 
 The minnows were an Idaho tourist attraction. They
 
should have been made into a National Monument. Swimming
 
close to shore, like children they believed in their own im–
 
mortality .
 
 A third-year student in engineering at the University of
 
Montana attempted to catch some of the minnows but he went
 
about it all wrong. So did the children who came on the
 
Fourth of July weekend.
 
 The children waded out into the lake and tried to catch the
 
minnows with their hands. They also used milk cartons and
 
plastic bags. They presented the lake with hours of human
 
effort. Their total catch was one minnow. It jumped out of a
 
can full of water on their table and died under the table, gasp–
 
ing for watery breath while their mother fried eggs on the
 
Coleman stove.
 
 The mother apologized. She was supposed to be watching
 
the fish—THIS IS MY EARTHLY FAILURE—holding the
 
dead fish by the tail, the fish taking all the bows like a young
 
Jewish comedian talking about Adlai Stevenson.
 
 The third-year student in engineering at the University of
 
Montana took a tin can and punched an elaborate design of
 
holes in the can, the design running around and around in
 
circles, like a dog with a fire hydrant in its mouth. Then he
 
attached some string to the can and put a huge salmon egg
 
and a piece of Swiss cheese in the can. After two hours of
 
intimate and universal failure he went back to Missoula,
 
Montana.
 
 The woman who travels with me discovered the best way
 
to catch the minnows. She used a large pan that had in its
 
bottom the dregs of a distant vanilla pudding. She put the
 
pan in the shallow water along the shore and instantly, hun–
 
dreds of minnows gathered around. Then, mesmerized by
 
the vanilla pudding, they swam like a children’s crusade
 
into the pan. She caught twenty fish with one dip. She put
 
the pan full of fish on the shore and the baby played with
 
the fish for an hour.
 
 We watched the baby to make sure she was just leaning
 
on them a little. We didn’t want her to kill any of them be–
 
cause she was too young.
 
 Instead of making her furry sound, she adapted rapidly
 
to the difference between animals and fish, and was soon
 
making a silver sound.
 
 She caught one of the fish with her hand and looked at it
 
for a while. We took the fish out of her hand and put it back
 
into the pan. After a while she was putting the fish back by
 
herself.
 
Then she grew tired of this. She tipped the pan over and
 
a dozen fish flopped out onto the shore. The children’s game
 
and the banker’s game, she picked up those silver things,
 
one at a time, and put them back in the pan. There was still
 
a little water in it. The fish liked this. You could tell.
 
 When she got tired of the fish, we put them back in the
 
lake, and they were all quite alive, but nervous. I doubt if
 
they will ever want vanilla pudding again.

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